It’ll certainly oversteer – a trait demonstrated in more vivid detail when I sit shotgun with Dakar expert Nani Roma later in the day – but through the deep sand its attitude once again varies according to ruts. On fairly flat ground, you have several choices – a dab of the heavy brake pedal or flick of the wheel will send the car sideways, but more throttle and a quarter-turn of lock is needed in the soft sand to provoke a slide.
A few other aspects stand out for someone entirely new to this sort of vehicle. One is the constant punishment of the rough surface. Four-wheel drive vehicles are restricted to half the suspension travel of two-wheel drive buggies on the Dakar. Some bumps are enough to provoke involuntary ‘oof’ noises. Others send my helmeted head pinballing between the head restraints on the Recaro seat.
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The other is restricted movement. This will be familiar to anyone who has used a four- or five-point harness before, but it’s more of a problem when you’re sitting relatively low, behind a relatively high bonnet and plenty of ground clearance. Cresting some hills becomes an act of faith rather than judgement, with little chance to shuffle in your seat for a better view.
All too soon, we rejoin the gravel access road that led me to the start of the stage. It strikes me that my biggest concern – the heat – has gone unnoticed. It’s unlikely this would be the case on the full Dakar event, where temperatures can be greater even than the deserts of Dubai.
Add in the constant punishment and the length of each day, and fatigue also becomes a factor. As does altitude, when competitors traverse the Atacama desert in Chile. Al-Attiyah explains in graphic detail – over dinner – the nausea of altitude sickness he suffered when he failed to take the drugs used to combat it.
X-Raid’s ALL4 Racing vehicle is remarkably civil. In contrast, the conditions its drivers compete in couldn’t be further removed from civility.